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Additive manufacturing to extend the service life of railway infrastructure and reduce costs
27 | 02 | 2023
San Sebastian, 27th February 2023. The estimated maintenance cost of the rail system in Europe is over €10 billion each year. Maintenance decisions are based on periodic inspections that determine the condition of the railway with respect to thresholds. In general, 40% of the cost of building a kilometer of railway track corresponds to the cost of the rail. Therefore, improving the life cycle of rails translates directly into significant savings in both cost and energy.
This is the backdrop for the LIFERAIL project, created primarily to extend the life cycle of high-speed (HS) and light rails exposed to unconventional conditions of use through repair by additive manufacturing (AM). To achieve this objective, research will be conducted on how to implement additive manufacturing repair in rails installed in urban environments or under very high traffic loads. As a result, it is expected to reduce maintenance costs and ensure the sustainability of maintenance operations while guaranteeing traffic safety and minimizing environmental impact.
Rail repair by additive manufacturing
Two complementary strategies will be used to implement the project. The first is rail repair by additive manufacturing (AF), which seeks to significantly reduce costs and environmental impact by repairing rail on site rather than manufacturing, transporting and installing new sections of rail, and developing a predictive model of degradation caused by corrosion and wear. The second is to implement predictive maintenance strategies to extend the life cycle of the rails, considering the influence of AF for rail repair, thus optimizing maintenance and reducing costs.
Funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (CPP2021-008681) in the framework of public-private partnership programmes, the project began in 2022, will last three years, and is led by ArcelorMittal. Ceit Technology Centre, which has already led other projects directly related to the technologies used in LIFERAIL, is the project's technical coordinator. Also involved in the project are COPASA, an infrastructure construction company in charge of maintaining HS railway lines; METROTENERIFE, light rail manager; and Fundación IDONIAL, expert in the characterizing railway materials, validating advanced test bed repairs, and assessing deterioration by corrosion and wear and tear.
New powdered metal materials
Specifically, Ceit will work on developing new powdered metal materials for repairing different grades of steel, as well as a rail repair system using DED-laser technology with enhanced performance in terms of quality and durability compared to current welding methods, and a software tool for rail lifecycle analysis based on predictive maintenance.
The project aims to extend the useful life of the rails, reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing. In addition, when rails are removed at the end of their useful life, they can be used to generate new powdered material for AF repair, contributing to the circular economy.
Ceit is a not-for-profit technology centre that was set up in 1982 on the initiative of the University of Navarra. Its high degree of specialisation in manufacture, mobility, digitalisation and the circular economy are used to develop industrial projects within applied research, in close collaboration with companies. It also promotes excellence in applied research via scientific production, participation in scientific and technical forums, and PhD training within the framework of industrial research projects. It is a member of the Basque Research and Technology Alliance (BRTA).